The Technium

Five Unstoppables

An unstoppable is a trend or entity with so much forward momentum, centrality, and success that it seems unstoppable. I don’t mean “too big to fail” I mean too unstoppable to stop.

Yet, eventually every unstoppable slows down, even if they don’t vanish, and they usually don’t. (Unlike the “too big to fails.”) How are unstoppables stopped? I recall how hard it was to imagine how unstoppable Japan would be stopped in the 1990s? Real estate was not mentioned. It is always hard to imagine how any great power declines while it is at its peak. But all will.

I see five “unstoppables” reigning in popular imagination now. 

Google, China, the Singularity, Moore’s Law, and the US.

Recently a few contrarians have taken a stab at how the US might fall apart, as mentioned previously. Here’s a recent not very convincing argument against Moore’s Law continuing much beyond 2014. Vernor Vinge himself fashioned four arguments against his singularity thesis (that is greatness!). There’s a few arguments against China. This one in Foreign Policy has some good points, but I find myself not persuaded for some reason. Excerpts:


For complex reasons, China’s rise has inspired fear and unease, not enthusiasm, among Asians. Only 10 percent of Japanese, 21 percent of South Koreans, and 27 percent of Indonesians surveyed by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs said they would be comfortable with China being the future leader of Asia.


Another, perhaps more important, reason for the enduring American preeminence in Asia is that most countries in the region welcome Washington as the guarantor of Asia’s peace. Asian elites from New Delhi to Tokyo continue to count on Uncle Sam to keep a watchful eye on Beijing.


China appears to have done much better in these areas. But appearances can be deceiving. Dictatorships are good at concealing the problems they create while democracy is good at advertising its defects.

I’d love to see a good set of believable scenarios on how Google eventually gets sidelined.

  • Mark Essel

    I don’t believe Google will be stopped so much as made less of a single point of information retrieval. The Internet builds in layers and tools will be constructed connecting search functionality with personal profiles based solely on natural user web interaction.
    Advertising based businesses suffer once we become immune to their baseline. With the popularity if crowd sourcing and social media, no central business will own web information. Already link referrals are becoming significant traffic sources.
    I’m building a blog plugin/web app now that searches a users specified updates with semantic processing (Zemanta) and fires up a contextual adsense search and related ads. Custo
    fit to a user. There are many applications for this type of tech from building user profiles that the Internet can understand, behavioral studies, clustering to identify subcommunities you may share many interests with.

  • Vasu Srinivasan

    The Swan Song of Google, will happen only when we start saying,

    “I will not search here or there.
    I will not search anywhere.
    I do not want the keys jam,
    I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”

    The following three trends:

    1. Everything is not miscellaneous anymore
    In the present time,David Weinberger is absolutely right. “Everything is miscellaneous”,is the central reason, Google is who they are. Google gives me a list which is devoid of context and I use my interpretation to choose a few and filter out the rest.

    But,one day this ‘contextlessness’ is not beautiful anymore. When the digital forests of information is so massive and my needs of information consumption is richer and subtler, that I don’t want to construct meaning,everytime I want something. I give out so much information about myself to the internet, that you should construct the context and give me what I want with surgical precision.

    2. I don’t want and can’t handle everybody
    “Here comes everybody”, warned Clay Shirky. Sure the “Numa Numa” dance was interesting. I could learn all about the Marzipan cake from Wikipedia. Google certainly disrupted, “Knowledge is Power”.

    But, one day, with the posterous of the world and the speech-to-text tools in the mobile, literally, everybody is providing me information and entertainment, real-time, with a range of usefulness (from great to junk),that my cognitive surplus is going down, day by day, with the million Gary wannabes. I demand that, somebody set the “Bozo bit” correctly, after ‘knowing’ who I am.

    3. Fingers are not the window to the internet

    As long as the keyboard is the only interface to the world, I could tolerate a list. Google is certainly my window to the brave new world.

    But, one day, when my expectation increased from getting a list, by typing, to commanding the ‘mobileputer’, “This dude is using the term, non-linear strategic action. I want to understand where he got the term from and how relevant is this term to the current context.”, just like I command my automobile to increase the fan speed.

    Or I am watching a movie and Jack Nicholson drops the name of that expensive coffee and I slap my forhead and my mobile wakes up to give me, yes, indeed this is true, that such a coffee exists. I don’t care about any other info., only what I want. Just find out what I want from who I am and my gesture. But, don’t make me wear those weird looking gadgets all over my body, like the Sci-fi movies.

    So, When the three trends become pronounced, Personalized curation would not only be the only means of preserving the richness and diversity afforded by the Long Tail, but the only way, for me to do a great many cool things with this connected intelligence, without expending my precious attention.

    If you think, this ain’t gonna happen, reflect upon how much information your eye filters to get the information that you decide to place attention on.

    Google,”the window to the internet”, would be replaced by the “Eye of the OM”. (OM, is Kevin Kelly’s term). Personally, it is going to a be a great while for that to happen.

    – Vasu Srinivasan

  • Anonymous

    There [are] a few arguments

  • Robert de Forest

    As long as our interpretation is sufficiently flexible, Moore’s law will never end in any meaningful way.

    It’s not safe to invest in technology which is not going to pay off for more than ten years (I’m guessing). It is not worthwhile to invest in a technology which is less than 100% better than the hottest thing currently around. Investors are left with two choices: participate in Moore’s law (by funding their best bet at furthering the curve) or look elsewhere for profits. Inevitably there are multiple investors who take the plunge and at least one of them ends up funding the next thing which pushes the curve forward.

    The only things which can stop this are economic collapse and limitations of the universe itself.

    The money made from these successes is actually money saved by not using the older technology. The new technology is more valuable because it reduces costs for the users of the new tool. Anything which works twice as well as its predecessor is probably going to give a substantial boost to the productivity of anyone who upgrades. The value of the new product is a slice of the pie “created” by lowering the cost of using that kind of tool. Moore’s Law is the result of an improvement cycle which forestalls economic collapse. It’s entirely possible that collapse could still happen but we will recover and when we do the cycle will pick up where it left off.

    The limitations of the universe are real, but they are IMMENSE (or immensely tiny or fast or whatever). As it says in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Talking about the end of Moore’s Law may be a fun way to pass time while partaking of intoxicants in a social setting, but you might as well be talking about the heat death of the universe. It’s real, but it’s not going to be your problem.

  • eddie

    Hi KK,

    Err…curious, why did you put former Philippine’s (and CIA/USA backed) dictator’s vandalised imaged on this article which’s only explicit-link to Asia is China??

    Also, Indonesia is a huge country (both geographical and also population physical distribution), how much of sampling size/distribution was used for that 27 percent conclusion?

  • @eddie: Follow the link.

  • eddie

    Thanks KK. Missed that link. Was totally weird out by your post without that Foreign Policy link. Makes more sense now.

    Asia is a very complex entity. I was raised here, so I should know some of the parts of this complexity. Kissinger (then) question about Europe is applicable to Asia, as much as to many regions of this planet (e.g. South America?). :-)

    Any one wants to place some guesses as to how this century will turn out? We have the next almost 90yrs to compare notes.

    What were some of the predictions of the early 20th century? Any similarities?

  • Reader

    I see five “unstoppables” reigning in popular imagination now.

    Google, China, the Singularity, Moore’s Law, and the US.

    Add democracy to this list. Also capitalism, multiculturalism, and most of our other sacred ideals of how society is/should be organized. These are perceived as much more unstoppable than the ones you listed, since these are simply ASSUMED to be unstoppable, and go mostly undiscussed, at least in the mainstream.

    I’d love to see a good set of believable scenarios on how Google eventually gets sidelined.

    Concerns over privacy are the main reason why I’ve stopped using Google – do you really want all your searches, emails, IMs, web browser history, and the contents of your hard drive all in the hands of this one company? Google is all about keeping track of people, and who knows what is being done with the information they gather about you. Whether other people will start seeing it that way is another question.

  • Richard

    Not only am I familiar with some of the root reasons why Google operates the way it does (goes beyond money, connected with power.. see RAND corporation), but am very aware with a way to totally replace it.. and facebook.. and myspace… with far more powerful and useful tools. For now, though, its top secret. Its mindmapped on a whiteboard that Google will never be able to textmine for purposes of competetive intelligence.

  • kiramatali shah

    Everyone has their favorite way of using the internet. Many of us search to find what we want, click in to a specific website, read what’s available and click out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s efficient. We learn to tune out things we don’t need and go straight for what’s essential.